What do all of these things have in common: designer, author, teacher, illustrator, creator? One answer: Mike Rohde. Another answer: visual thinking. If you don't know what visual thinking is, or don't think you are a visual person, Mike has made it his mission to convince you--and me--that we all are visual thinkers! He even created a new way of taking notes, called Sketchnoting, that combines words and drawings and already has tens of thousands of converts.
This episode covers:
... and why Mike once considered giving people just starting out a "diploma" saying, "You have the permission to suck at sketchnoting"!
As promised in the episode, here are links to some of Mike's sketchnotes:
It's always the right time to try something new, and Mike says we are all up to the task!
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Our visual skills are really rich, and we sort of take them for granted how good they are. And so this opportunity for me that gets me excited is convincing people that they're visual thinkers, and that they can draw and produce ideas better than they think they can.
remember being a kid and drawing all the time, do you do that anymore? Are you using your visual skills? Are you even aware that you have any? I'm Elizabeth Pearson, gar and this is the Experience podcast. My guest on this episode, Mike Rody is a self proclaimed visual thinker. And guess what? He says, You and I are too. Thanks for being here. Really appreciate you joining me on the podcast.
It's so great to be here. It's going to be a lot of fun. I'm really looking forward to this.
Yeah, well, I'm really excited because I love that you described yourself as a visual thinker. You're a creator and a teacher and an artist and you're really an ideas guy. Can you start by kind of defining what that is it a visual thinker?
Well, I think it's a really broad term. And I kind of intentionally provided that to you, because I think as you noted, I sort of do visual things in such a wide variety of areas that I kind of think of everything I do is visual thinking in many ways. So by day, I'm a user experience designer with a software company, I do illustrations for books, I take the manuscript of authors that want to really give more life to the words, I work with those authors really closely to understand like, what is the core meaning of this section of text or this idea. And so again, there's another use of visual skills to express ideas. And then finally, years and years ago, I was really frustrated with the notes, I was taking, writing these handwritten notes. And the solution for me was to really restrict my tools to a pocket notebook and a gel pen. And because of that, it forced me back to my roots, where I was doing more lettering, and I was writing less than I was drawing. And it came back to, how can I simplify these ideas I'm either hearing or thinking about and turn those into an interesting visual map, I guess you could call it, that, when I look at it later, I can scan this thing and this stuff will come back to me without having to go like dig through 25 pages. And I feel like hacking through with like a machete to find the value that I wanted to get away from that. So again, another expression, which turned into sketchnoting that led to books and teaching and all kinds of other stuff. So I would say that for me, like if I were to put like some stake points and attend, those would be that for me. And I think pretty much everyone is a visual thinker, they just don't always think of themselves that way. We all assuming you can see, have some visual capability to see things and our visual skills are really rich, and we sort of take them for granted how good they are. And so this opportunity for me, that gets me excited, is convincing people that they're visual thinkers, and that they can draw and produce ideas better than they think they can, with just a few simple ways of changing the way they think and the way they draw.
Yeah, it's true. You know, as kids, we draw all the time, and we're encouraged to draw. And that's why I love your idea of sketchnoting. The more that I've learned about it, you can describe it better, but I tried to describe it to my kids, and they got really excited about it to their 13 and 15. And I thought, is this something they could start doing? And really, as they get into these years of having to go into lectures and heavy note taking? Wouldn't that be such a much better way? To start to be able to draw ideas as well as take written notes? Can you describe some of what that is how you go
about it? Yeah, I think maybe the best way for those who maybe haven't heard of sketchnoting before is to simply start with a definition. And I started describe it as sometimes I call it notes plus. So it's not like you suddenly stop writing and all you do is drop pictures. That's not what it is. It's this idea that we shouldn't feel limited to only verbal things or writing, or even typed notes. But that to expand into being able to draw ideas, we can often represent a lot of information in a very little time with a drawing that would take paragraphs and paragraphs of text to describe. And so this idea of combining writing and drawing and lettering and icons and imagery and metaphors, to sort of capture your thinking expands your capability to represent ideas based on what you need to do. So when I teach it, I sort of say, don't think about drawing like you did, maybe in college in your lifetime class, which is all valid. But for ideas, all you really need to do is put together five little Lego pieces and that would be a square, a circle, a triangle, a line and a dot and the way I teach As you can take these elements and sort of put them together and all these fun ways, and actually really quickly represent concepts without really having to be a great artist, I think by changing that mindset is probably bigger than anything else. You're just capturing ideas, and then the pressures off like, Ah, I don't have to be an amazing artist, all I have to do is draw these squares and circles and put them in the right order. And it's enough, right?
Yeah, like you said, it's not about art. It's about ideas. It's not about, oh, how do I get this house looking beautiful, it's just making an image of a house, and then you're writing other words around that. And maybe how you visualize it on the page, I think that's the other really neat thing about how you design your whole pages is so beautiful, there might be an arrow pointing down, I saw something when you were, I think you must have just been sitting watching a Super Bowl, and there's Super Bowl, whatever it might have been 52 written at the top, but then there's the field goal over here and arrows and pointing and touchdown. So like, you know, you're continually writing and keeping notes. And the page kind of has a flow to it and a special design. Does every sketch note session take on its own design? Or do you kind of have a template that you work with in your head?
That's a good question. I started have a default template, actually. And that is what I call the linear format, which is basically the layout of a book top left of the page, bottom right of the page, if I'm like pressed into a situation where I have to sketchnote something, and I just need to go like that's my fallback. There's a few other ones. And when I started researching sketchnotes, I noticed that there tended to be this pattern of different styles that kept popping up over and over again. So I documented those things. So in the book, there are seven different styles of templates we call them, or layouts, I guess you might say. Just to mention a few one is linear. One is radio, which is a lot like if you know mind mapping where you have a central concept in the middle, and then things radiate off of that. That would be a radio format, where maybe the title or the person's picture or the topic is in the middle, and then you can draw stuff around it. One that I found really useful at South by Southwest Interactive was what I called skyscraper and the problem that I faced with that specific challenges, you have a table of I don't know, five or six people all talking. So how do you capture information and keep it straight? Like who said what? And so my solution was, well, why don't I just divide the page up into five or six sections, like tall skyscraper type buildings, draw the picture of that person, and then underneath their picture, or if I can put their picture in the bottom, draw above them. Whatever statements, they're saying that I find interesting. As you get done with the panel, you'll find out who talked the most, who said the things that resonated most with you. Because sketch notes are really a lot about understanding and listening and making sense of information. You can see which column is getting filled up. Yes, yes. In fact, I think I had this happen once where one person wasn't talking much. So the talker ended up getting like I stole a part of their skyscraper, because they had so much more information they were sharing. And then another one that's can be useful is called the path format, which is where you can start at the top left of the page could start really anywhere. And it just follows a widening path where it makes use of the page. And there's a clear path of some kind could be numbers. 12345 could just simply be the shape. And it sort of ties the whole narrative together. So you're thinking of it as a story with a beginning, middle and end, and a start and a finish. The path works really well for that. And then there's a few other ones that are more specific. Is the path almost like a board game? Yeah, that's a good way to think of it. It's almost like a board game. Yeah, there's some layouts that seem to work better for some things than others. And some of that has to do with your own personal like how you feel about them and how they fit. As an example, if I'm taking notes in a board meeting, my sketch notes might just be linear. And I might really have lots of text, and then maybe just little drawings in the margins, because it's all about the content. So the other thing I'll say, in relation to layouts, is that the visual to text ratio is flexible. So think of it like a slider on a stereo system, right to the left, like in my example, in a board meeting, you might slide it to the text side, because you have a lot more to write and maybe then the images just get sort of peppered in there someplace, or they have a column dedicated to them. And if you're in a TED talk or an experience where you're having dinner or something like that, you can slide it way to the visual side because there the emphasis is on this beautiful food that I'm having and then you're just annotating so there's that flexibility to go in either direction. That's tied to layout and structure.
Yeah, and it's neat because I think it triggers a different part of the brain in the actual taking of the notes and and then remembering of the notes. I think for some people Note taking is kind of a passive experience. And if you're drawing and taking the notes, maybe you're just much more engaged in the process.
There wasn't a lot of research in 2012, when I wrote the book, one of the people we cite is Alan piezo, who had this dual coding theory. His theory was that part of our brain is sort of designed to code text. And speaking and those kinds of things, then the other part of our brain is set up to encode imagery. And that's probably the older part of our brain, the language part actually came later. And his contention was, each one is powerful. But when they're used, and they're overlapped, sort of meshed together, that that can be really powerful, because now all the information you're taking in is sort of being spread all over your brain. It's making full use of the tool, your brain to be able to capture that information. So yeah, I think that engagement is really important. And I think it does make a difference. Yeah.
Like you, I'm somebody that loves to have pen to paper. I don't consider myself an artist, but I love the act of writing, just physically writing. It's very soothing to me kind of therapeutic, I love to just write journals, or just write. And it makes me sad that so much of life now is on a laptop. And my kids just spend so much of their time on laptops, for school and everything. And with sketchnoting, you know, it is about paper, or journals and writing or do people often do it with those styluses. And computers too?
Well, I think for a long time, paper and pen was just the best solution out there for sketchnoting. The way I look at it is there's sort of a spectrum. So you start with pen and paper, the beauty of pen and paper is you never have to charge it up, the batteries are never going to fail, probably going to last hundreds of years. The hilarious thing is like for what you pay for an iPad Pro, you could like buy loads and loads of amazing notebooks and pens, and still probably have money leftover right to take a trip or something. And like you I love the feel of pen on paper. And I do think that with sketchnoting sort of coming back even though the iPad is certainly providing something, there are people that are rediscovering paper and pen because of it right? And it's they're like, Oh yeah, I remember this when I was a kid, like, how did I forget this, this is really fun. And they sort of get back into this analog experience because for them as well. Everything's keyboards and screens and glass. And there's just something not tangible about that that paper and pen provide. But I also understand for when I do professional work, like illustrating books, I use the iPad now, with say, procreate, it gives me the ability to do high resolution canvases. And I can use all kinds of brushes. And if I have an error of some kind, I can go back and fix it really easily. If I did that on pen and paper, I would have to maybe sometimes redraw things or start over again, completely, right, it gives me a lot of flexibility. And then finally, with the iPad, if you use that, you can also immediately send images of sketch notes out to social media, or to an email list or whatever you like. So there are definitely advantages, but I always look at it as a spectrum. I always look at things like what do I want to achieve with the tool, and then I choose the tool rather than I have this iPad, I have to use it for everything, it's more like, do I want the enjoyable experience of using a pen and this certain paper and I want to sit at the creek, and I will listen to a podcast and make a sketch note of it well, then I will leave the iPad at home and just take simple tools. If I'm working for a client, where I need the ability to make last minute changes, or any color or I need, you know, whatever the specs are, that would just direct me right over to the iPad just because it gives me all those features and flexibility to do the things that I need to do. So I always look at it as much more driven by the endpoint or the output. And then that tells me which tool that I should choose.
So that example you just gave of sitting at the creek and creating a sketch note, I'd love you to go into some more examples of that. Because, you know, initially I thought it was just about say being in a class listening to a lecture being at a conference. But the more I looked into it, you gave great examples. I guess I use the one of watching the Superbowl but you say you can be traveling and put your impressions down of a day at the museum or at the Eiffel Tower. And this sketchnoting you can really use it to capture impressions of your experiences, or a restaurant a great meal. So can you give some examples of that? And then how you would do that? What that looks like?
Yeah, I'll start with food because I think that's probably most approachable for people. I will at the outset tell you that I eat the food first and I take photos. And I enjoy the food before I do sketchnoting I've I've just found through experience. If I focus too much on the sketchnoting my food gets cold. And then it sort of you know ruins the experience. Why am I having the food? Yeah, so enjoy the food, take photos. one story in particular. Many years ago, I was on a work trip with friends and we were able to go to Berkeley And we thought, you know what we've heard about the shape and the space, let's see if we can get in. We tried, we couldn't get in the main restaurant, but the cafe had an opening. So the three of us went and had dinner in the cafe. And I had my little notebook and my pen along. And so as we had the meal, because it took a little time between the courses, I was able to draw what I was experiencing, and we noticed that the waiter kept looking over my shoulder at what I was doing. So at the end, he ended up taking photos of the piece. When you look at it, it's not an amazing drawing, it's not super detailed. And what I would say about that is sort of the whole mantra of sketchnoting is, it really is first for you like it has to make sense for you, it has to capture something for you. If somebody else gets something out of it, that's like whipped cream and a cherry on top. But it's got to be important to you. So when I look at that all those images and memories of being a shape, and he's come back to me. So even though it's a very rough drawing, it sort of activates something in my memory. And that's why I do those specifically food drawings, because it helps capture that moment in time. And a little different way than a photograph, you know, photograph works well, but like, actually physically drawing it out, make some connections in my mind, to the memory. So that would be an example of food sketchnotes. And I've done it in a bunch of different places. Travel is sort of like the next level. So probably my most memorable was taking my family and my little kids to Washington, DC. And we saw all kinds of stuff, we went all over the city. And it was impossible to really sketch note in the moment like to take a book out and draw anything because the kids wanted to go here and riding buses. And in that case, I took lots of photos, I had a little notebook, and I just wrote down the things we were doing each day, in what order. And then when we got back to the hotel, I sat at the desk in the hotel while the kids are sleeping, and then basically rebuilt that day in my journal. So it was writing the story and drawing pictures and integrating the two together. And so that was a really memorable experience for me. And now I look at it and I've got a nice notebook that the kids can look at later. And then remember why we went with the head to Washington DC. So that's a record for them, whether they remember the details for the future,
and it's so much more accessible for them probably than just reading some notes that you wrote, oh, we were at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, they can see sketches of airplanes and things.
Right. Another example I'll give you is for longtime I resisted going on cruises, this is pre pandemic, but my wife did a tour with a missionary organization over the summer as a college kid in Alaska and the Inside Passage, and she fell in love with that area. And we had this opportunity for our anniversary, to go back there on a cruise. And we thought well what better way you're basically a floating hotel, and you get off at all the towns that she was in. So that's what we did, it was turned out to be great. And so I'd had my little notebook, and I would take it along. In that case, we didn't have a lot of kids with us. So I could take time to draw in the moment. And that was really enjoyable. And then our practice was every night after dinner, there was sort of a spot that we found, you could sort of sit in a comfortable chair and look out the window and see the ocean going by. And my wife was learning to knit so she would knit and I would fill out my sketchnote of the day. So it worked out really well as kind of a meditation, reflection or something. So I think looking at it as an opportunity to meditate provides additional benefit beyond just the informational part of the sketchnote. The experience of sort of focusing, and getting back into the moment and capturing can be really valuable,
like a peaceful carved out time of the day. That's That's lovely. Another thing that I read, that really has to do with I guess any good conversation too is the key is to be a good listener. That's the key to being a good sketch note or
Yeah, I call listening is a secret weapon of sketchnoting. If I have someone's beautiful sketch note, but they weren't listening, and they're not capturing really from the heart and what it means to them. It's not as interesting as something with maybe poor or rudimentary drawing where the person really listen invested into the notes. I think there's so much of it is the analysis in the moment and trying to figure out like, what is the valuable thing that's being said, How does this impact my life? How can I capture this on the page, all that's listening, and then the act of putting it on the page is almost in a lot of ways secondary, which is great for people that are not artists or don't feel like they're great draw errs, you can lean much more on the listening part. And then the drawing is more of the just the way you capture what you're listening to.
So it is really about being present.
Oh, yeah. Yeah. It is demanding. I mean, if you just decide I'm gonna start sketchnoting today, it's gonna be a challenge because you're not used to this combination of tools. And this this way of working this intense active listening, and then trying to capture notes and draw little tidbits. It's going to take a little time to get going and anytime you start something new, you really need to have grace. For yourself, because it's I'm not doing good at this well in comparison to what if you've never done it before? How can you compare it to anything, you have to just have grace and keep moving forward and find the positive things like I did a great drawing of this little thing, or that really captured that idea. Those are the little wins that you need to focus on, as a way to keep yourself going.
That's good advice. And like you said, you don't have to be a great artist. In one of your videos that I watched you gave an example of even just how to draw people, it was just a little bit different than a stick figure. You don't have to do perfectly drawn out features and everything, but it just gives a little more life to it. And so it's not about fancy drawing. Oh, yeah. Yeah. I love your illustrations. Also, in the books that you've worked on, you said, you are working on computers now to do them. They have so much life to them, I consider them kind of like, mini cartoons in one, they don't just illustrate a certain point, they have a whole story to them. Can you talk about how you come up with those? Do you work with the author's give us some context about how you create those?
Well, I think a lot of it comes back to sort of the same core things that sketchnoting draws out, and that is listening, analyzing, thinking and metaphors and sort of thinking creatively, I guess, laterally sometimes. So as an example, I'll just pick the book rework, which is probably the most popular illustration project that I've done, best selling book by Jason freed and David Heinemeier Hansson, the way that worked out was I actually did sketchnoting, for those guys, at some events that they hosted. And they really liked my style in the way that was compressing complex information in a simple way. So they reached out and said, Hey, Mike, we'd like your style, would you be open to illustrating a book that we're working on? And I said, Sure. So
they just see that you've posted about their conference?
Yeah, the very first conference, I just went to, they didn't know who I was. But I did the sketchnote things. And I posted them. And the organizers found them online, and they found them and they both posted a blog post. It's crazy with images. So we had this sort of entree, then we started talking and became friends. And they, they invited me to come and sketch note a second event. So we just kept bumping into each other. And eventually, Jason reached out and said, we'd like to try illustrating our book. So we did some initial drawings, so that we could pitch to the publisher, the publisher was cool with what we were going to do. Sometimes the way it works is that an author will have a really clear idea of a concept from the manuscript because they wrote it. And then sometimes with David and Jason, they're like, Mike, we have no idea how to illustrate this, come up with something. So that's where then I get a kick in and sort of read the manuscript and listen to what what is it saying to me, and what is the idea that pops in mind, and so then I'll do pencil sketches, share them back to the author. And we'll sort of sometimes go multiple revolutions, through there to figure out which concept best represents for them what it means. I really liked this process. I've used this for many years for all my design work, where I really kind of nail down the concept and pencil before we get to color or finished anything. Because I think what it means for the clients that I work with is, I can have input, nothing's finished. So inherent in the medium that actually has a message to who's viewing it. So once we get through the pencil sketches, and we nail down the general concepts, then I'll come back and I'll start thinking stuff and share it with them. And sometimes there will be changes like, oh, we need to move this or that words wrong. Or so that's the beauty of where like an iPad Pro and a pencil comes in because I can layer things and easily swap things in or out. And it's really fun.
And the ideas just come to you at random times.
Sometimes it takes a little time, I found one of the techniques that I heard, I think it was the creator of MacGyver. I can't think of his name right now. But he had this idea that he would sort of feed himself information about a problem that he needed to solve related to the MacGyver script or something. And then he would go sleep on it. And then next morning, like an answer would come to him sounds really woowoo. But I found that kind of true, like, we're all just sort of taking information, and then I'll go do something else. Like I'm gonna go mow the lawn. And then when I come back very often, there's just a different perspective, like, Oh, I didn't think about this angle. What about that? And I think the other thing is, putting every idea on the page that comes to me whether it's bad or good is really helpful. Because there are occasions where a bad idea is clearly a bad idea. And we can't go with it. But there's some little kernel in that bad idea, which, you know, if we did this, and we just turned it this other direction, maybe that could work. And so that does occasionally bring good solutions, even though the initial idea doesn't work. It's really a process of sort of working through the problem and not giving up too soon. So holding on and like keep trying keep turning.
Yeah, I've heard writers say that to just put something down on the page, keep writing, even if you know, that's not the idea, you're getting there progress. Do you have plans to do further illustrations? Is that something you pursue? Or you're just if someone approaches you, you would do that?
I've sort of come to the place of the right people will find me. So I sort of let people self select, I don't really actively promote it real hard. I have samples up so people can find it. Rework is out in Seoul, a lot of copies. So people find me through that. And so at Times bestseller, yeah, rework is led to lots of projects, like pretty much every other project that I've done is come through the work, I did a very first and the second book remote, which is another of their books that I did, they kind of come to me knowing that I want something like what you did for rework, like the storytelling you do in an image. And using metaphors and all those things that I really like about it, I want that for my PowerPoint deck, or my book, or whatever it is. And so I certainly could promote it more than I do. But being a full time designer, I don't really need to, and it just ends up that the right people seem to come to do the work with me. So that works out pretty well right now.
Yeah, how do you juggle all of these things? Because you've got your full time work and then illustrating, and you created the sketchnote army, which is a whole other thing I'd love you to talk about, and you have your own podcast and a lot of things that how do you juggle all of your many elements of your work life?
Yeah, that's, that's a good question. I think having a full time job, in a lot of ways is helpful, because there is a limited amount of time. So it makes it a lot easier for me to say no to things that I just like, you know, I could do that. But I'm not excited about it. So often turn those into referrals. So I think that helps. And then I think about it in season. So my sketchnote army is a website for sketch Noters. And really, a lot of the focus lately has been on the podcast where I interview people in the field, just talking about their experience and their tips and stuff. So I made an early decision with the podcast that I would work in season, so I'd have breaks. I think that helps, right. So you got a season in the spring and one in the fall and a break in the middle. And then I think as far as the community goes, there's so many people in the community now it sort of runs itself, in some ways, some of the things that I'm doing. And then occasionally illustration projects come in, and they're sort of a peak for a while, and then they go away. And then I sort of fit in my own projects in the other time. So I think it's just a matter of trying to be honest with myself that when I've reached a capacity, that I just can't take any more stuff. I'm getting better and better at that as I get older,
you can say no, when you need to say yeah, it's an important skill to have. Have you always been that guy that kind of wanted to create and then also give back? Were you that little boy that was always just drawing and wanting to kind of create community. I mean, it's, it's really cool, what you've done. It's very outward focused?
I think so I can sort of encapsulate that in a really funny little story. When I was a kid. I grew up in Chicago, and we had an apartment in the basement of the building. So when we left the house, we had to walk up out the back door. So our windows were at the tops of the bedrooms. At the time I was into these hot rod cars and superheroes stuff. And I could draw up pretty well. So what I would do is I would take sheets of printer, paper or construction paper, and I would just draw the cool things I thought were cool. And I would stick them up in the window. And when my friends would come over, they would pay me a nickel for the ones they liked. So I would sell them the drawing and then make another one and put it in there. And then at the end of the summer, I would have collected all this money on a Saturday, let's go to the store. And we would buy like bubble gum and ice cream and just enjoy it. Yeah. So
rather than I'm gonna go by myself, all the hot rods or something, you took the whole group out.
I mean, I probably bought a couple of Hot Wheels, cars or something, but you know, was much more fun to hang out with people. That's always sort of been my focus. So it seems to have stuck in sort of finds its way into all the work that I do. It's just really fun to build something with other people because everybody gets enjoyment and you feel like you've poured something into their life and you get something back as well. So it's really fun.
I wonder if there's something about being a creative person, you don't really want to just keep it to yourself. Yeah. How does that feel to see something that you came up with the sketchnoting and then to just see it out in the world and just perpetuate that must be kind of cool to see people using Are you ever like at a conference or just out and see someone using it and think, Wow, man, I created that thing?
That's really cool. It's I have to admit, it's really, really fun to see it taking off and seeing people doing it all over the world. And I'm especially excited that we we really focused on making sketchnoting about really minimal principles, so that it was super flexible to be adaptable. Like I have a friend who's a physicist, he had to take a different approach to sketchnoting Because of the scientific nature and the depth of the content, he has to do a lot of preparation before he can just go show up at a scientists presentation for an hour, he found that the concepts work. But in that specific case, you have to do a lot of pre work. That's really interesting. seeing kids doing it, seeing teachers introducing it to kids is really exciting. Because that means there's going to potentially be a whole generation of students who now have sketchnoting as a tool in their arsenal. And in fact, my daughter came home a few weeks ago and said, Hey, Dad, we're learning sketchnoting in school, so I told the teacher that you invented it. So I thought that was pretty funny.
If the teacher believed her,
I think she did. I think both my books are in the middle school library, so we could send you to the library to check them out. But that was pretty fun. So
what age is a good age to sort of start learning this? Generally,
I would say, any age where kids are starting to, like, I think they naturally draw right away, that point at which they start to write and writing and drawing or sort of working together, probably about fourth, fifth grade something in there, we're starting to write essays. And I will say that my youngest son when he was seven years old, and we were at an event where I was teaching a small group of people, my sketchnote workshop, and he happened to be there with my wife. So he just took some paper and pen, I didn't realize he was doing this. And he followed along, did everything that I said, he drew all the things, he used all the shapes. Now he might have a limitation in fast writing, or in depth writing. Or maybe he's figuring out the whole listening to writing ratio, that's going to come though, so that might be why you might delay it to a little bit later, where they're more fluent in both drawing and writing, that it will be exciting. But all the teachers that I've talked to said they love sketchnoting, because it sort of engages kids, a lot of kids are gonna want to doodle and draw anyway. So it's sort of taking something they naturally want to do, and then sort of bending it towards something that will benefit them. It'll help them to remember it keeps them engaged, especially ADHD, kids tend to be fidgety, I have a couple ADHD boys. And being able to draw and be able to focus that way can be really helpful. A school teachers are really excited about it, because they see the benefit of their students being engaged in topics they're learning. They're now drawing them out and understanding and the retention that they get from doing sketchnoting is better. So for teachers, it's a really cool thing. And it's kind of spreading like wildfire with many teachers. In fact, before the pandemic, a lot of the travel that I would do, maybe about quarterly was flying to a school district. And teaching like a bunch of teachers had to do sketchnoting. So they could then incorporate it into their curriculum. So that was pretty cool. Typically, the way it would go is one teacher would get excited, they would use it find it was valuable. And then they would bother their principal into bringing me in to do teaching. So that seemed like a recurring theme. And it was really fun. So I've been all over the place teaching this. And it's just really fun to see teachers having another resource, another way to look at their students and provide a different way for them to understand the information they're trying to teach them and have them learn.
Yeah, sketchnoting, it really took off. I mean, you have a couple of successful books, you've got videos, you teach it all over the place. I've noticed other people online teaching it also using that phrase sketchnoting. So you didn't trademark it, or copyrighted or anything? How do you feel about other people using your technique? And your word?
That's a great question. And from the beginning, I kind of felt like sketchnoting was more of an idea that should be shared. And so initially, I didn't pursue copywriting it partly because of that reason, like I'm a big fan of Seth Godin, Seth Godin has got this book called The idea virus. And if your idea is good, it will spread and there's nothing you can do to stop it. And by the time I realized, well, should I copyright this thing, it was already too late. My nature is to share things. But also I think, my motivation is far greater than simply sketchnoting. That's one expression, as you see. So my goal is to wake people up to the fact that they can be much more visual than they think they can. So if someone else is teaching the concepts, and everybody has their little variations, if the core concept convinced somebody to try this, I'm excited, and I will back them because ultimately, there's so many more people that don't use visuals, that we have a long way to go before we're in any kind of a competition like that, I think. So there's lots of fish in the sea, I guess to say, ultimately, my goal is really getting people to be visual themselves. And once that higher goal is sort of your focus, like how you get there, whether it's like 100 ways to get there. There might be people that maybe they don't like the way I teach or they don't even encounter me but they encounter someone else that's a win for me because the whole immunity moves forward together, and we grow together.
Have you ever thought about the future of sketchnoting? Have you just set it on its own course? And whatever it will be will be? Or are you trying to kind of guide it? And do you have a future for 510 15 years of what you hope it will become?
Again, guess I was sort of the middle of that, I've sort of designed it to be what it's going to be like, I don't want to hold it too tightly. And then I have my own perspective on what I see. And I try to bring that to the community. But if it could become pretty standard curriculum, in education, that would be exciting, because again, just provides another tool, maybe you don't use it all the time. Maybe it's for select things. But the ability to do sketchnoting as an option, just like reading text notes, or typing your notes, if that fits you, is really exciting for me to see someone, anyone who can now have a tool that makes them better, that helps them understand more that helps them communicate, that's that's a huge win.
Have you ever considered opening an academy or a little school to teach sketchnoting? Or do you feel like this is a nice way to do it to kind of drop into different places, and I guess, technology, you can have all these online tutorials as well.
I do like the in person experience, I think there is something about that seeing people's body language, being able to talk with them directly. I'd like to continue doing that as the pandemic sort of hopefully fades. I did some experimenting over the pandemic, where I taught really specific things like I did a course on lettering that was live. And I sort of planned the whole curriculum, and I did everything, almost like a performance, and then recorded it. And then people could buy that lettering course, after the fact. So if I did a school, it would probably be an online school simply because access is available for so many people around the world, right. So that really fits with my mindset about teaching and providing it to as many people as possible. And then from that maybe there's opportunities to do in person events, doing it online, the prices are typically lower, because you don't have a lot of overhead, it's available to so many people, and then you can record it. So if someone wants to watch it later, they can just purchase it and watch it at their leisure. So I haven't really pursued it yet with everything going on. So there you see my limitation of like, I'm doing enough stuff that that's more of a future looking thing. And when the time is right, then I would pick that up.
It's hard, I'm sure to have your full time job and then to think about expanding the sketchnoting Army Community, you know, that a bigger thing, just at heart to be a creative person. And to be able to work that into your work life in so many different areas must be really fulfilling.
Yeah, it really is I I sort of tell people that it will leak out of me, I can't really stop it. So next thing you know, I'm drawing on a whiteboard or doodling something on my iPad or sketching on some paper. And it's just the way that I operate, it just sort of comes out whether I like it or not. There's always sort of this artistic and technical blend that I really enjoy. If I've got those combination of things. Usually I'm pretty happy. I
think that one thing that that is so encouraging about it, it's kind of just a fun thing to try. You're not supposed to judge yourself as you're trying this whole thing. You know, I'm new to this, and I just tried to jump in, and I thought, well, I can't do it, I can't draw well enough. And you're in my head saying it's okay. It's not about looking beautiful. It's just about trying. And it's just stick with your basic elements of drawing and create your little visual library and like that, like just give it a shot, just stick with it and do what you can do.
I would say start slowly. I think I mentioned before have grace for yourself, you've never done this before. So if it doesn't go exactly as you like, that's okay. Look for small wins, like Oh, I love how I did that T on that letter, that T is awesome. If you can go to that granular level and say I did really good there that let's see if I can do three letters in a row like that. So start super small, I love this idea of a minimal goal. So like rather than say, I'm going to run for half an hour every day, it's like I would put my shoes on and walk for five minutes every day, that's much more achievable. In the same way. If you're starting the sketchnoting stuff, try it in a non threatening low stress environment. So don't like take this to an important meeting where everybody's relying on your notes and test it. That's probably not a good idea. Get it. Start with like a TED talk or watch your favorite TV show and just listen to what interesting things are being said during the show and just capture those in a visual way just for fun. I really like the idea of thinking about it as experiments because it reduces the pressure on you to do amazing stuff. You just do little experiments. And if that one doesn't work like up, we'll just do it again. Scientists don't quit being scientists because one experiment fails. They just do another one and they do another one right they keep repeating it until either they find out that that experiment was a bad one, or they get a solution or maybe it leads them in a new direction. So those are the things I would say for someone who's starting. Start with what you have find a nice pen and some printer paper. You don't need fancy books.
Yeah, I really appreciate that advice. It also as a little bit of a mirror on your own self on how hard you are on yourself. Because I was judging my drawings, my really bad stick figures, I was trying to make a picture of someone sitting down, I thought I just looks terrible. But it is just little baby steps. Keep trying and mine aren't going to look like yours because I'm not an expert.
It's funny I've thought about when I teach this in person, or even online is to produce like a little diploma. So when you go through the first hour, and you've done all the drawing, you get a diploma that says you have the permission to suck at sketchnoting, don't just say go right into it, like sort of laugh at it. And then it lightens the mood. And now you Okay, so I've got the right to suck. Okay, let's do bad stuff for a while until I get there.
Yeah, you don't go to one day of class and get your PhD or something. It's a process. Yeah. Well, thank you, Mike. This has been so interesting and great to lean into, try something new, try to approach something a little differently than you approached it all these years. And just kind of open your mind to something different.
Well, you're so welcome, Elizabeth. I'm so honored to be on the show. And I hope that this is encouraging to someone or some people to give it a try and see if it fits you, you might find that it's really valuable for the way that you learn and the way you express yourself.
I love learning new things. So I'm grateful to Mike for opening my eyes and my notebook, not only to the idea of sketchnoting, but also to the idea that I too can be a visual thinker. So many of Mike's ideas can apply to lots of areas of our lives. Here are my takeaways from our conversation. Number one, anytime you start something new, you need to have grace for yourself. When you first try something you feel you're not doing well, compared to what? Find the positives. Keep moving forward. To be creative. If something in your life isn't working for you like taking notes in the traditional manner was frustrating Mike, come up with something else. Three. No ideas are bad ideas, turn things upside down sideways, look at things differently. Don't give up too soon. Keep trying for when you have a lot to do, say no to the things you don't really want to do. And finally, number five, here's a sweet little idea. If you create things you love and then sell them, take your friends out for ice cream and bubble gum with the proceeds. Wouldn't the world be a better place if everyone lived by this philosophy? Big thanks to the very talented and very busy Mike roadie for making time to talk with me. Please, please, please go to the show notes for this episode on our website and see some of his amazing work. I have links there to his sketch notes from his shape a niceChez Panisse meal, his Washington DC trip with his family, his books and a lot more. You can link to them at the experience podcast.net All of our past episodes are also there and you can find out how to follow us on social media and sign up for our newsletter. Please tell a few friends about our podcast too. I'm Elizabeth Pearson. Gar thanks for joining the experience